Can you get Covid and flu at the same time? Signs and symptoms of a double infection - and how to protect yourself this winter

Can you catch two viruses at once? And what happens if you do?

A Californian has become the latest patient to be found to have contracted Covid-19 and influenza at the same time.

The Solano County Department of Health and Social Services in the Bay Area broke the news of a man who had suffered from a flu-Covid co-infection.

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But is a flu-Covid co-infection something we should be worried about - and what are the symptoms?

(Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

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Here is everything you need to know.

Is it possible to contract Covid-19 and flu at the same time?

Yes, it’s entirely possible to contract Covid-19 and flu at the same time.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

The news coming out of California confirms this, and although that case is making headlines, it is far from the first.

As far back as March, it was reported that nine patients from Wuhan (the Chinese city where the coronavirus is believed to have originated) tested positive for Covid-19 and influenza viruses.

Of these nine patients, only one had not recovered from Covid-19 by the time The Lancet – which published the findings – had gone to print.

Since then, there have been over 80 published reports of patients infected with both influenza and Covid-19 from around the world.

Are you more likely to die if you have both?

The verdict’s still out on that one.

In many of the studies mentioned above, researchers found that the influenza infection did not make the Covid-19 patients’ medical outcomes any better or worse.

However, in the UK, many scientists – including England’s chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam – believe contracting both the flu and Covid-19 together significantly increases your risk of death.

His conclusions are based on evidence from a study of only 58 people, carried out in the UK during the early stages of the pandemic; we’ve learned a lot more about Covid-19 since then.

Prof Van-Tam said the study, although small, tallied with other work that has been done, and said in September: “As I understand it, it’s 42 per cent of those with co-infection died compared with 26.9 per cent of those who tested positive for Covid only.”

He added that these were people who had been hospitalised and had tested positive for both the flu and Covid-19.

Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England said, “The last thing you really want to have is flu. And if you do think you have either flu or Covid, stay at home and self-isolate. That’s to protect yourself - you’d be feeling very miserable - but also to protect others.

“If you get both, you are in some serious trouble, and the people who are most likely to get both of these infections may be the very people who can least afford to in terms of their own immune system, or their risk for serious outcomes. So please protect yourself against the flu this year.”

What are the symptoms of a double infection?

Unfortunately, it's extremely difficult to tell if you have a flu-Covid co-infection.

That's because the symptoms of each are very similar, and once a Covid-19 positive test comes back, doctors rarely seek further tests for other viral infections.

According to the NHS, the symptoms of Covid-19 are:

- a high temperature

- a new, continuous cough

-a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

And the symptoms of flu:

- a sudden high temperature of 38C or above

- an aching body

- feeling tired or exhausted

- a dry cough

- a sore throat

- a headache

- difficulty sleeping

- loss of appetite

- diarrhoea or tummy pain

- feeling sick and being sic

What can I do to protect myself?

To reduce your chances of catching flu, government scientists have been urging those at risk of transmitting the flu to get the vaccine in the coming weeks and months to mitigate the risk.

The government has purchased 30 million doses of flu vaccine for the 2020 season, the most it has ever bought.

The vaccine will arrive in batches to allow over-65s and those with medical conditions to be called for immunisation first.

Relatives of those who were shielding will also be contacted.

Children aged two and three, plus all primary school children and those in year seven will be offered a vaccination to protect the older children in their families.

Letters advising those eligible for the flu vaccine began to go out at the end of September.